Any help to stop bullies is welcome

15th February 2008 at 00:00
Can teachers learn a trick from the world of elite sports by developing mental toughness in their pupils so they can perform better in exams and beat the bullies?

A new study, using tests developed by Wrexham-based firm AQR, has concluded that there is a direct link between the mental toughness of pupils and their behaviour, wellbeing and performance. The stronger between the ears they are, apparently, the more likely they are to achieve in school tests and the less likely they are to perceive themselves as victims of bullying. Techniques have been developed to help children develop mental toughness, in much the same way as has been used to stretch top athletes and boardroom executives.

Trials in schools in the Merseyside borough of Knowsley are now set to be extended to schools in Wales by AQR. Not all teachers will welcome this approach. It's easy to regard it as supporting a macho culture that says children should "brace up" and accept that school is all about competition, and that they should shrug off bullying as a fact of life - part of the "school of hard knocks mentality", as Geoff Barton puts it in his column today on page 27.

But there's no doubt that sport can be a great motivator for many children, especially boys. It can help them rise to challenges, build confidence and develop commitment. These are exactly the qualities the new trials are aiming to nurture. Being able to identify children's level of mental toughness can also help teachers to avoid misconceptions - the study has found that girls who are mentally strong are more likely to be described as showing negative behaviour than boys with the same attitude.

There is nothing wrong with teaching children to be strong. It sits easily with developing the social and emotional aspects of learning that are now commonplace in primary schools and rapidly gaining ground in the secondary sector.

As our report on bullying shows (pages 16-17), fear of being picked on is a major concern for young people. Anything that can help to tackle that fear and build self-confidence is to be welcomed. Using older children as mentors is one effective way to help pupils who are being bullied. What better than to appoint mentors who are themselves mentally tough?

It could help beat the bullies, as well as boost children's achievement.

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